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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

The Lady in the Van: The Screenplay

Alan Bennett; With a Foreword by Nicholas Hytner

Picador

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK

The sound of squealing brakes, then a car crash.

FADE IN

EXT. COUNTRY ROAD. DAY. (1960)

A country lane c. 1960 with MISS SHEPHERD at the wheel of a van barrelling along, her face set and anxious. Distantly we hear the sound of a police siren (or bell it would be in 1960). She pulls the van into a side road or clearing and waits, ducking behind the seat as she sees the police car pass the end of the road. MISS SHEPHERD rights herself, checks the side of the van. Wipes her hand on it. Blood. She crosses herself. Then starts up the van and drives off the way she has come.

As she turns the corner, we see that the police car has stopped at the end of the road. A solitary policeman, UNDERWOOD, gets out of the car and watches the van disappear.

ROLL TITLES over—

INT. CONCERT HALL. NIGHT.

A glamorous pianist in a décolleté evening gown (along the lines of Anne Todd in ‘The Seventh Veil’ c. 1947) playing some bravura piano concerto.

As the titles end, so does the concerto, and we hear ALAN BENNETT in voice over and cut to—

INT. 23 GLOUCESTER CRESCENT. STUDY. DAY.

ALAN BENNETT at his desk, writing.

ALAN BENNETT (V.O.)

The smell is sweet, with urine only a minor component, the prevalent odour suggesting the inside of someone’s ear. Dank clothes are there too, wet wool and onions, which she eats raw, plus what for me has always been the essence of poverty, damp newspaper.

The sound of the lavatory flushing. ALAN BENNETT looks towards the toilet door.

ALAN BENNETT (V.O.) (CONT’D)

Miss Shepherd’s multi-flavoured aroma is masked by a liberal application of various talcum powders, with Yardley’s Lavender always a favourite, and currently it is this genteel fragrance that dominates, the second subject, as it were, in her odoriferous concerto.

MISS SHEPHERD comes out of the lavatory, pulls down her skirt, and leaves through the front door. We see something of the inside of the house and its contents, still at this date, c. 1976, fairly uncluttered.

ALAN BENNETT (V.O.)

But as she goes the original theme returns, her own primary odour now triumphantly restated and left hanging in the house long after she has departed.

Out of the window we see Miss Shepherd’s van parked in the drive and MISS SHEPHERD herself rearranges some plastic bags beneath the van. She is tall and though her changes of costume will not be described in detail, she is generally dressed in an assortment of coats and headscarves but with a variety of other hats superimposed on the headscarves. Old raincoats figure, as do carpet slippers and skirts which have often been lengthened by the simple process of sewing on additional strips of material. She is about sixty-five.

ALAN BENNETT

(at the desk, speaks)

Tell her.

As he watches through the window, A.B.—his other self—comes out of the house.

EXT. 23 GLOUCESTER CRESCENT. DAY.

A.B. approaches the van.

A.B.

(at the van)

Miss Shepherd. In future I would prefer it if you didn’t use my lavatory. There are lavatories at the bottom of the High Street. Use those.

MISS SHEPHERD

They smell. I’m by nature a very clean person. I have a testimonial for a Clean Room, awarded me some years ago, and do you know my aunt, herself spotless said I was the cleanest of my mother’s children,

(A.B. gives up, and goes)

particularly in the unseen places.

INT. 23 GLOUCESTER CRESCENT. STUDY. DAY.

A.B. catches ALAN BENNETT’S eye as he passes the study door.

ALAN BENNETT (V.O.)

The writer is double. There is the self who does the writing and there is the self who does the living. And they talk. They argue. Writing is talking to one’s self, and I’ve been doing it all my life, and long before I first saw this house five years ago.

CUT TO:

EXT. 23 GLOUCESTER CRESCENT. DAY

Five years earlier, possibly with a subtitle, though the unkempt nature of the house and a ‘For Sale’ sign indicates that this is earlier. House empty. No van.

A.B. comes round the corner of Inverness Street into Gloucester Crescent, and then into the garden with an ESTATE AGENT.

A.B.

Fifteen?

ESTATE AGENT

Number 10 fetched seventeen.

A.B. looks discouraged.

ESTATE AGENT (CONT’D)

Come on. I thought you had a play on in the West End. These houses have got so much potential. Once you get rid of the junk. Well there you have it: Gloucester Crescent. Good street. On the up and up.

A.B. and the ESTATE AGENT walk up Gloucester Crescent. The street is alive with refurbishing activity. As he speaks workmen bring out a nice marble fireplace out of No. 63 and shove it in the skip, breaking it in the process. More workmen carry materials into another house.

ESTATE AGENT (CONT’D)

Big motor, have you? Loads of room.

INT/EXT. 23 GLOUCESTER CRESCENT. STUDY. DAY.

A.B. carries boxes of books into the empty study. Through the window we see two men unloading a table or desk from a removal van. The sign now says ‘Sold’.

EXT. 23 GLOUCESTER CRESCENT. DAY.

A.B. leaves the house.

EXT. CONVENT. DAY.

The van stalled nearby, opposite a Convent. From MISS SHEPHERD’S POV we see A.B., with a WHSmith bag, through the van windscreen which is grimy, with the dashboard hosting a variety of objects like a half-eaten tin of baked beans, a packet of biscuit also half-eaten, various tissues, packets of soap flakes etc.

A.B. stops to look at a cross (with a painted crucified Christ). MISS SHEPHERD appears at his shoulder.

MISS SHEPHERD

You’re not St John, are you?

A.B.

St John who?

MISS SHEPHERD

St John. The disciple whom Jesus loved.

A.B.

No. My name’s Bennett.

MISS SHEPHERD

Well, if you’re not St John I need a push for the van. It’s conked out, the battery possibly. I put some water in only it hasn’t done the trick.

A.B.

Was it distilled water?

MISS SHEPHERD

It was holy water so it doesn’t matter if it was distilled or not. The oil is another possibility.

A.B.

That’s not holy too?

MISS SHEPHERD

Holy oil in a van? It would be far too expensive. I want pushing round the corner.

EXT. CONVENT. DAY.

A.B. starts to push. MISS SHEPHERD goes though her repertory of hand signals: ‘I am moving off … I am turning left’ … the movements done with boneless grace and in textbook Highway Code fashion.

A.B.

Are you wanting to go far?

MISS SHEPHERD

Possibly. I’m in two minds.

EXT. GLOUCESTER CRESCENT. DAY.

A police car passes. MISS SHEPHERD stops the van and crouches down. MISS SHEPHERD emerges cautiously.

A.B.

Is that it?

MISS SHEPHERD

I need the other end.

A.B.

That’s half a mile away.

MISS SHEPHERD

I’m in dire need of assistance. I’m a sick woman, dying possibly, just looking for a last resting place, somewhere to lay my head. Do you know of anywhere?

A.B. goes.



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